Walk the stretch of beach from the bluffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve to the sea caves at La Jolla Cove and you’ll see nary a sign of civilization. Paths lead to a 300-foot-high sandstone cliff overlooking Torrey Pines Beach — a great place to shake life’s daily stresses: 2,000 protected, woodland acres named for the area’s rare, wind-gnarled trees.
When the California Southern Railroad put down tracks in the 1880s, a tent city unfolded and eventually became a seaside resort for the rich and famous. Opening in 1910, Hotel Del Mar was a magnet for Hollywood stars of silent films.
The former St. James Catholic Church — a 1914 Craftsman-style building once the only place of worship between San Diego and San Clemente (parishioners included Jimmy Durante and Desi Arnaz; ushers were Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien) — now houses the Del Mar Library and Historical Society.
The post-Depression era Works Progress Administration established the fairground. The final touch on the site was a mile-long, oval racetrack — awash in charm with ocean views accenting the California Mission architecture and profusion of flowers and foliage.
Crosby generated momentum for Del Mar Turf Club, where thoroughbred racing began July 3, 1937. He co-wrote “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” the song that still opens and closes every racing day. (Thoroughbred racing season is July 20-Sept. 7.)
Among the club’s luminaries were Charlie Chaplin, Rita Hayworth, the Marx brothers, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, even J. Edgar Hoover.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford built their rambling Fairbanks Ranch north of Del Mar on what was a Spanish land grant. The land is now the affluent equestrian community Rancho Santa Fe.
Stay at The Lodge at Torrey Pines next to the Torrey Pines Reserve, above miles of pristine beaches and a serene lagoon. Built on the edge of Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course in the Arts and Crafts style of architects Charles and Harry Greene, the resort boasts 175 rooms, a full-service spa, and a signature dining room. San Diego businessman/builder William Evans insisted on being faithful to the costly refinements of the Greenes’ style: fine craftsmanship, use of wood and Oriental accents, and art glass lights. The Lodge combines elegance and rusticity. Interiors feature Honduran mahogany and Brazilian cherry wood lining the hallways, fabrics by Arts and Crafts designer William Morris, and Gustav Stickley-inspired furniture. www.lodgetorreypines.com
Chef Jeff Jackson presides over The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ excellent A.R. Valentien restaurant. He creates seasonal, thus constantly changing, menus based on availability of products from independent small farms and orchards. His tasting menu alone, with or without wine pairings, is worth a trip to Valentien. Try the veal cheeks with spring onions and radishes and the white asparagus with hedgehog mushrooms, shallots, and thyme. He offers a variety of artisan and farmhouse cheeses, as well as house-made sorbets and ice creams.
Nine-Ten, a smart American bistro located at 910 Prospect St. (part of Grande Colonial Hotel) in La Jolla, www.nine-ten.com, serves entrées and appetizers in two sizes: tasting and entrée (with the former one-half the price of the latter). Try the flatiron steak, braising greens, and half-cooked chocolate cake. It’s best to dine alfresco on the front sidewalk. Other alfresco options include El Fornaio for Italian breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Pacifica Del Mar for the freshest fish in town; and JF Japanese café for sushi. Watch the sun set over the Pacific sipping a glass of Chianti at Enoteca del Fornaio.
The 1,000-acre, trail-laced Torrey Pines State Reserve (www.torreypine.org) protects the country’s rarest pine tree — a species found only here and on Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel Islands off California’s coast. With long needles and sculpturally twisted trunks and branches, the trees cling to golden cliffs and table-like sandstone formations along a three-mile stretch of coastline.
Also, explore the artistry of Del Mar Plaza (www.delmarplaza.com), the town’s contemporary shopping village tucked into a wooded canyon above the Pacific Ocean. Like an Italian hill town, the plaza tumbles downhill in a series of terraces, trellised pathways, and courtyards using native stone, brick, and wood to create three levels of terraces, all with panoramic ocean views, all filled with elegant shops and interesting restaurants. California architect Jon Jerde’s firm designed the award-winning structure.